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Bridging the Design-Implementation Gap: Best Practices for Large-Scale Fit Out Projects


Fohlio is a comprehensive specification and procurement tool that helps users take on larger projects. Empower teams to open stores faster and improve their operational workflow with specification, prototyping, estimating, and procuring tools. 

In encountering any fit-out project regardless of scale, designers frequently confront the daunting challenge of the design-implementation gap.

This is when the final outcome of a project fails to align with the approved design proposal, leaving designers disillusioned with the results.

A good example of this gap can be observed in retail store design. During a recent webinar, one of our users, Christina Wang, Program Manager for Global Store Planning at Tiffany & Co., shared: 

"From Q4 of 2022 into Q1 of 2023, we presented renderings from the design team that were approved by the CEO, market leaders, and everyone else. However, upon the stores' opening, they bore little resemblance to the renderings. There was a substantial disconnect between what was specified and what was purchased and implemented in stores."

This testimonial underscores the prevalent nature of the design-implementation gap, even affecting big-name brands. The repercussions? Dissatisfied clients, financial overruns, diminished design integrity, project delays, and potential disputes are just a few of the adversities stemming from inadequately executed designs.

This occurs because, following the design proposal stage, a project must navigate through various phases such as approval, bidding, and purchasing. At times, chosen finishes approved during the initial stages may not materialize due to cost alignment, product availability, or time limitations. These factors, often unforeseen by both the designer and client, can disrupt the continuity between the proposed design and its execution.


Here are a couple of things you can implement to mend the gap and get the most out of your design proposal. 


1. Create a library of specification alternatives that check off your standards 

Imagine you're handling a casino renovation project, and the client specifies a particular type of carpet tile that must be fire-resistant and electricity-resistant. You diligently select a carpet tile that meets all their criteria. However, the client requests an alternative flooring option because they dislike the appearance of your initial selection.

Suddenly, you find yourself in a bind because you haven't prepared any alternatives.

There's nothing like a last-minute change that can set off a chain reaction of project delays. The pressure from an event like that often pressures designers into giving clients spec options that dont check off in the first place, leading to a mismatch between the proposal and actual design, and the risk of delivering lower quality designs.

Read: Safeguard Your Profits: The Cost of Delayed Openings and Ways To Mitigate It

Consider this: preparation goes a long way. If you had a library filled with alternative specs that checked off the same requirements as your project proposal picks, then you could give your clients more options without having to possibly compromise on project quality. 

Here's how to implement this approach: when specifying products, in addition to noting typical details like name, SKU, dimensions, and finishes, include a column to track product requirements.

To avoid the hassle of re-specifying materials for future projects, consider saving these specifications in an online digital materials library. This centralized resource allows you to easily access and reference previously approved specifications, streamlining the process for upcoming projects and ensuring consistency across your portfolio.

Learn more about Fohlio’s digital materials library here

The next time you're asked to substitute products or provide additional options, simply filter the columns based on category or requirement criteria and instantly access a curated list of spec alternatives. This proactive approach ensures that you're always prepared to meet client demands without compromising the integrity of your design proposal.

Read: Create Effective Design Standards With These 5 Templates and Catalogues


2. Preserve your proven specifications in a prototype 

In the context of FF&E and OS&E spec writing, prototyping is when you bundle together commonly used product specifications from past projects. 

This is an effective approach, especially for companies that need to achieve consistency in their fit-outs across multiple locations, think: franchises, hotels, retail stores, and schools. 

Prototyping is a vital link in bridging the gap between design and implementation, offering several valuable benefits. When you create specification prototypes, you'll essentially be crafting tangible representations of our design ideas. 

This makes it easier for everyone involved to see and understand what the final product might look like, fostering better communication and alignment among team members. Plus, having access to prototypes early on helps to fine-tune designs. This feedback loop ensures that you’ll be on the right track and makes it easier to spot any potential issues before they become major headaches during implementation.


3. Provide your teams with a live stream of product updates

Specifying discontinued products without realizing it can be a major headache. It means having to go through the entire selection and approval process all over again, which not only wastes time but also increases the chances of making mistakes and causing delays.

That's why it's smarter to stay ahead of the game by providing design teams with regular updates on which products are no longer available for use. This way, you only have to go through the selection and approval process once, saving you a lot of hassle in the long run.

Having a product and materials library that gives you information on both approved and discontinued items is a game-changer for anyone involved in specification writing. It makes it so much easier to find products that meet project standards and avoid choosing materials that are outdated or unavailable. With this feature, you can write specifications more efficiently and accurately, saving time and reducing the risk of errors along the way.


4. Track your internal and external stakeholder approval

As the scale of a project increases, so does the risk to its quality. Consequently, companies establish a series of parameters to regulate this risk. In large-scale fit-out projects, this often manifests as a chain of approval. However, this intricate process can lead to delays and specifications slipping through the cracks.

To guarantee the integrity of chosen products, you’d have to navigate through multiple checkpoints, this could involve the FF&E manager, project manager, client, and procurement team. With each step requiring approval, the process becomes cumbersome, especially when relying solely on email correspondence for thousands of product specs. The solution? implement an efficient approval tracking tool to maintain transparency and accountability throughout the project lifecycle.


5. Connect your design and procurement teams

When design and procurement operate in silos, it creates a host of problems. Firstly, there's often a lack of communication, leading to designers specifying materials or products that are unavailable or unsuitable for procurement, causing delays and rework.

Secondly, procurement may struggle to find specified items within budget constraints, sparking conflicts with designers over cost and quality compromises. Additionally, the lack of integration can result in misalignment between design aesthetics and procurement objectives, ultimately leading to dissatisfaction with the final project outcome.

Overall, these silos hinder efficiency, increase the likelihood of errors, and impede the successful completion of projects.

By centralizing design and procurement, teams can collaborate more effectively, bridging the gap between designers and procurement staff. This means designers have access to the information procurement needs them to see. 

In the fitout process, a common issue arises where procurement might push back on designers specifying items that exceed budget constraints, while designers might criticize procurement for prioritizing budget-friendly, low-quality options. 

Fohlio allows multiple teams to collaborate on one dashboard with controlled data sharing options.

With centralized operations, there's a smoother exchange of project information, allowing both teams to work together and find compromises in material selection that meet both budget and quality requirements.

Diagram from: 4 Ways to Make Your Process More Efficient 

While the design-implementation gap presents significant challenges in fit-out projects, it remains conquerable. 

Embracing innovative strategies such as the creation of specification libraries, the utilization of prototypes for proven specifications, and the optimization of approval processes empowers teams to navigate this gap with assurance. Additionally, centralizing design and procurement operations fosters collaboration and ensures alignment with project objectives. 

By implementing these measures, projects can not only meet but surpass expectations, delivering exceptional results that satisfy clients and stakeholders alike. Let's join forces to bridge this gap, fostering a harmonious connection between design vision and project execution. Together, we can redefine the standards of excellence in fit-out projects and pave the way for transformative success in the industry.

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Published Mar 2, 2024